Vibrant contemporary writing from the north-eastern region: Overcoming marginalisation of culture and literature

The poets from the north-eastern region have to meet the double challenge of truth and liberty, of identity and unity, of cultural loss and recovery, of ethnic specificity and aesthetic universality.

ONLY in the last one decade or so has the vibrant contemporary writing from the north-eastern region written in many languages, including English—Assamese perhaps is the only exception —really begun to reach the rest of India and the world through translations and anthologies. The reasons may be many: the marginalisation of the region in general in the mainstream discourses on culture and literature, the difficulty in comprehending the many contradictory worlds—the folk and the modern, the rural and the urban, the native and the Western—that uneasily coexist in the region and the shortage of competent translators who can directly translate into English or other Indian languages from languages like Karbi, Mishing, Bodo, Kokborok, Khasi, Mizo, Ao and Angami (Tenyidie) being some among them. (In some sense, these are also the reasons why Indian literature in the languages mostly remains inaccessible outside the English-speaking world.)

Our understanding of north-eastern literature even now may be skewed as the writing we receive is what comes filtered through editors and translators with their own prejudices and preferences; yet we need to thank the few who have taken the trouble to explore this less travelled world and bring us at least some good samples of what is being written in the languages of the north-eastern region. Journals like The NEHU Journal brought out by North-Eastern Hill University; Yaatra, a journal of Assamese literature and culture edited by the writer Dhrubajyoti Bora; and the more recent Northeast Review, an e-journal edited by the young poet Aruni Kashyap have been publishing translations of and critical writing on north-eastern literature.

Besides these, my sources for this piece and the next include two anthologies of north-eastern poetry: Anthology of Contemporary Poetry from the Northeast jointly edited by two poet-translators, Robin S. Ngangom and Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih (NEHU, Shillong, 2003), and Writings from North-East India edited by Tilottoma Misra (Oxford University Press, 2011). I may also suggest a book among many for background reading: The Peripheral Centre: Voices from India’s Northeast edited by Preeti Gill and published by Zuban (2010) that brings together a host of interesting, often moving, first-hand studies of conflict, insurgency, counter-insurgency, development, gender and health issues and the many forms of social protest in the region. […]

Colonialism and Christianity did not impact Manipur strongly because of the Vaishnavite tradition there. So the Manipuri writers developed a modernism of their own inspired chiefly by the pre-Vaishnavite Meitei past that is being reinvented now. Modern poetry was born chiefly amidst the ravages of the Second World War, according to Robin S Ngangom who has done excellent translations of a lot of Manipuri poetry. […]

Source: “Voices from the hills” by K. Satchidanandan, Frontline Magazine edition, 14 June 2013
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K. Satchidanandan is a Malayalam poet, translator, academic and bilingual critic and former Secretary, Sahitya Akademi.

Source: Trends in regional languages and literature from Asia and the subcontinent. | Frontline
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Date Visited: Sun Jul 28 2013 18:55:34 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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